Open the Advanced Search


Kalmia angustifolia

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
For more information please download the BSBI Code of Conduct PDF document.


Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Ericaceae (Heath)
Evergreen shrub
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
90 centimetres tall
Bogs, gardens, moorland, riverbanks, rocky places, swamps, waterside, wetland, woodland.

Pink, 5 petals
Reddish-pink, cup-shaped flowers measuring between 6 and 12mm across. Pollinated by bees.
The fruit is a capsule. The seeds ripen in September.
A Rhododendron-like evergreen shrub with stalked, opposite or whorled leaves. The leaves have slightly inrolled margins. Garden escape species.
Other Names:
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Kalmia angustifolia, commonly known as sheep laurel or lambkill, is a species of evergreen shrub native to eastern North America. It is found in woodlands, rocky outcroppings, and bogs, from Newfoundland to Florida and west to Minnesota. The shrub is typically between 30cm to 90cm in height, with small glossy leaves and small clusters of pink or red bell-shaped flowers. The plant is toxic to sheep and other animals, which is why it got its common name "sheep laurel". The plant is also poisonous to humans, and all parts of the plant should be considered as toxic if ingested. Despite that, it is often used as an ornamental plant for gardens and landscaping.


Sheep-laurel, also known as Kalmia angustifolia, is a beautiful and unique plant species native to the eastern United States and Canada. It is a member of the heath family, which includes rhododendrons and azaleas, and is a popular ornamental plant for gardens and landscapes.

Sheep-laurel is a deciduous shrub that typically grows up to 3 feet tall, with a spread of up to 5 feet. It has narrow, dark green leaves that are about 2 inches long and clustered at the tips of the branches. The flowers are striking, with deep pink to reddish-purple petals that are arranged in large, showy clusters at the ends of the branches. The flowers typically bloom in late spring to early summer, and are a favorite of bees and butterflies.

One of the unique features of Sheep-laurel is its toxic properties. The plant contains a substance called andromedotoxin, which can be harmful to both humans and animals if ingested. This toxin is most concentrated in the leaves and flowers, and can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and in severe cases, heart failure.

Despite its toxic properties, Sheep-laurel has been used for medicinal purposes by Native American tribes for centuries. The leaves and twigs were traditionally brewed into a tea to treat a variety of ailments, including headaches, fever, and muscle pain. However, it is important to note that the medicinal use of Sheep-laurel should be approached with caution, as the plant can be dangerous if not used properly.

In addition to its ornamental and medicinal uses, Sheep-laurel also plays an important role in the ecosystem. The plant is often found in wetland habitats, such as bogs and swamps, where it provides food and habitat for a variety of wildlife. The nectar-rich flowers are a source of food for bees and other pollinators, while the dense foliage provides cover and nesting sites for birds and small mammals.

Overall, Sheep-laurel is a fascinating and unique plant species with a rich history of both medicinal and ornamental use. While its toxic properties should be approached with caution, its beauty and importance in the ecosystem make it a valuable addition to any garden or natural area.

Sheep-laurel is native to a broad range of habitats in the eastern United States and Canada, from the coastal plains to the mountains. It is a hardy plant that is adaptable to a variety of soil types, but prefers moist, acidic soils that are well-drained. In the wild, it is often found growing in wetland habitats such as bogs, swamps, and streambanks, but it can also be found in drier upland forests and meadows.

In addition to its striking flowers, Sheep-laurel is also known for its interesting growth habit. The plant tends to form dense, low-growing thickets, with branches that spread out in a haphazard pattern. This makes it an excellent choice for use as a groundcover or as a low hedge, as it can create a beautiful, natural-looking border.

Sheep-laurel is also popular among horticulturists and gardeners for its resistance to pests and disease. Unlike many other ornamental shrubs, it is relatively resistant to common garden pests such as aphids, spider mites, and scale insects. It is also resistant to common plant diseases such as powdery mildew and leaf spot, making it a low-maintenance and attractive addition to any garden.

In terms of propagation, Sheep-laurel can be grown from seed or cuttings. However, it is important to note that the plant is slow-growing, and it can take several years for a young plant to reach maturity. Additionally, as previously mentioned, the plant is toxic, so care should be taken when handling the leaves and flowers.

Sheep-laurel is a unique and beautiful plant with a rich history and a variety of uses. While it should be handled with caution due to its toxic properties, it is an excellent choice for anyone looking to add a low-maintenance, pest-resistant, and attractive shrub to their garden or landscape. With its striking flowers, interesting growth habit, and important role in the ecosystem, Sheep-laurel is a plant that deserves greater recognition and appreciation.

Sheep-laurel has been an important plant for Native American tribes for centuries. It was used both medicinally and ceremonially, with different tribes using different parts of the plant for different purposes. For example, the Micmac tribe of Eastern Canada brewed a tea from the leaves and twigs to treat headaches and other ailments, while the Passamaquoddy tribe used the plant in purification rituals.

In modern times, Sheep-laurel has been the subject of scientific study for its potential medicinal properties. Research has suggested that compounds found in the plant may have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects, although more research is needed to fully understand these properties.

Despite its many benefits, Sheep-laurel is a plant that should be used with caution. The plant is highly toxic if ingested, and care should be taken when handling the leaves and flowers. However, with proper precautions, Sheep-laurel can be a beautiful and beneficial addition to any garden or natural area.

To ensure the health of the plant and its surrounding ecosystem, it is important to avoid planting Sheep-laurel in areas where it may spread and become invasive. While it is not typically considered an invasive species, Sheep-laurel can spread quickly under certain conditions and may outcompete native plants. To prevent this, it is important to plant Sheep-laurel in appropriate habitats and to avoid planting it in areas where it is not native.

In summary, Sheep-laurel is a fascinating and versatile plant that has played an important role in both traditional and modern medicine. With its striking flowers, interesting growth habit, and important ecological role, it is a valuable addition to any garden or natural area. However, care should be taken when handling the plant due to its toxic properties, and it should be planted in appropriate habitats to prevent potential invasiveness.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

Click to open an Interactive Map